By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA – It’s been said that kids say the darndest things.
Sometimes, they ask the darndest questions.
That’s okay. Oriol Servia doesn’t mind. He’s here to educate young people in all facets of the sport that he loves.
Even if it’s a monetary facet.
“How much is my helmet worth on E-bay?” the IndyCar star said repeating a question from a young fan Thursday during a visit to the Indian Hills campus. “I’m not sure we’ve ever put it on there to find out.”
Servia was willing to take questions on all subjects, mostly on the subject he’s most passionate about. On his way to compete this weekend at the Iowa Corn Indy 250 in Newton, Servia talked with different groups of kids Thursday afternoon outside the IHCC Advanced Technology Building about anything and everything that had to do with racing.
“It’s great because I love talking about racing, so I get to talk about what I love, but it isn’t often you get to talk to so many young people and get them interested in racing,” Servia said. “It’s always interesting to see how the minds work when they’re that young. The questions they ask are always the most random, but also the most interesting, so it’s very enjoyable.”
Servia talked about the design and the building of the IndyCars, which was beautifully on display in the form of J.R. Hildebrand’s National Guard machine. Having one of the cars that will be out on the track at Iowa Speedway on Sunday afternoon up close for all fans to come up and see only added to the learning experience.
“I know the young girls (in the Indian Hills Girls Exploring Math and Science Tech Camp) were working with on little cars of their own, so it fits perfectly that we had an Indy Car here for them to see,” Servia said. “It was great to talk with those young ladies. Hopefully, we may have inspired the next Danica Patrick out of that group.”
Servia, who raced against Patrick for the past four years and is in his fifth season on the IZOD IndyCar Series, also got a firsthand look at the Indian Hills Automotive Technology department. The Pals, Spain native himself earned a mechanical engineering degree from the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya and knows the value of a quality program in this field.
“I wasn’t sure what I was coming to, but it’s very nice campus,” Servia said of IHCC’s Automotive Tech program. “It’s much nicer then where I studied and it’s great what they’re teaching here. We’re always trying to get the best engineers and the best people in our sport to make us go faster. This is a program that’s helping produce those types of people.”
Part of what Servia talked with fans and various groups on Thursday at Indian Hills was the science that goes into creating machines that move at speeds well over 200 miles an hour. So much of the advancement of IndyCar, and really all of auto racing, can be traced back to the scientific side of the sport.
“We have about 10 engineers working on my car alone,” Servia said. “Being an engineer myself, I know the value of engineers. They play a huge part in racing to win championships. Being an engineer doesn’t just mean you have to sit in an office. There are a lot of things you can do. Making the cars go faster is one of them.”
Making those types of discoveries about harnessing speed on a race track has been driving Servia all his life. The son of former Spanish Rally champion Salvadore Servia, Oriol became hooked on motorsports after receiving his first off-road motorcycle from his dad at the tender age of two.
If anyone can speak to what it means to being inspired to race from a young age, it would be Servia.
“I think anybody that competes in anything, it’s tough because you’re going to try to get the best out of yourself and that’s hard work,” Servia said. “All that started one day when you were young because you liked something and you got into it. There’s no explanation why. You just know you like it.”
“I think days like this one don’t come along every day where you can see an Indy Car up close. Maybe that puts a bug in your head and makes one of these young kids study harder or be involved in some way in the future. If we were a little part of that, mission accomplished.”
Servia, meanwhile, will be looking to accomplish a different mission on Sunday by winning the Iowa Corn 250. It would be the first IndyCar win for Servia in what would be his 59th career start on the series.
“We had a good run going there in 2011. We were in the top five when we had a problem in the pits stop and we had another problem in the pits last year too,” Servia said of the Newton race. “It’s a track I feel like I do well. The Panther Racing team is a good team. They’ve given me a good car. We’ve been working hard and we should have a good (run) Sunday.”
“It always helps if I made a few more fans rooting for you. I don’t always get the chance to meet with so many young fans before a race, but I’m glad I got this chance.”